Former Klansmen Convicted of Manslaughter in 'Mississippi Burning' Case

By Melanie Arter | July 7, 2008 | 8:22 PM EDT

( - Forty-one years ago to the day that three civil rights workers were murdered, an 80-year-old Ku Klux Klansman was convicted Tuesday of manslaughter in Philadelphia, Miss.

Edgar Ray Killen was found guilty of the slayings of James Chaney, a black man from Mississippi, and Andrew Goodman and Michael Schwerner, both white men from New York, who were ambushed, shot and beaten on June 21, 1964. The bodies of Chaney, Goodman and Schwerner were found 44 days later buried in a dam. The case sparked the 1988 movie "Mississippi Burning."

Seated in a wheelchair, with an oxygen tube in his nose, Killen sat quietly while the jury of nine whites and three blacks read the verdict. He is the only person ever to face murder charges in the case brought by the state of Mississippi, according to the Associated Press. Killen faces a maximum of 20 years behind bars.

He was indicted on murder charges, but prosecutors asked the judge to allow the jury to consider the lesser charge of manslaughter, which carries a maximum of 20 years, because a murder charge means the prosecution had to prove intent to kill. Manslaughter, on the other hand, needs only proof that a victim died while another crime was committed.

Killen, who was a part-time preacher and saw mill operator, was originally tried in 1967 on federal charges of civil rights violations, but the all-white jury was deadlocked because one juror said she could not convict a preacher, according to the AP.

Seven others involved in the murders were convicted, but none of them served more than six years in jail, the AP reports.

Send a Letter to the Editor about this article.